If you want to make your performance personal, ask yourself this: how do I use this script to benefit me? I got this idea from my own acting teacher, Elizabeth Gamza. She would often comment on how actors are taught to serve the script – but are never taught the opposite. “How the script can help you?” she would say. At first, I found this kind of hard to follow. And then I remembered one of my most fulfilling experiences as an actor…as well as one of my best performances. I was in acting conservatory and had landed the role of “Nora” in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. At that time, I was engaged to man and I knew deep inside that I had made a mistake. I wanted to break off the engagement, but I was scared. I simply didn’t have the courage to do the thing I knew I needed to do… until I walked into acting class and my teacher gave me my scene. It was the one where Nora takes off her wedding ring and leaves her husband.
I remind you that this play was first written and performed in Norway in 1879. Divorce was unheard of then and any woman that left her husband was basically ostracized from the community. When this play was performed, there were riots on the street in front of the theater and frankly, breaking off my engagement felt just as big and scary.
Interestingly, I memorized eight pages of dialogue – including a large monologue- in a single day. The material was exactly what I needed at that moment. My soul was crying out for a place to say, experience and do the very thing that terrified me. I didn’t even have to think about serving the script because of how it was helping and healing me. And what I didn’t know then – but do now – is that when I let the script serve me, I could in turn serve it by making it relevant to the present day. In other words, when the script serves you, it serves itself.
I performed the scene in class and I got rave reviews, but it wouldn’t have mattered what anyone said…I felt great! It was a release; empowering and creatively satisfying like no other acting experience had ever been. It was my best work ever. And…I finally found my courage and broke off the engagement.
Years later I was talking with a fellow alumni who had graduated after me. She told me that our teacher would refer to one particular performance of A Doll’s House as an example of very specific and committed work. Turns out it was my performance; in the very role which had given me so much in return.
NEXT UP: Rock your character’s experience by connecting it with your own!
Know someone who could benefit from this Acting Tip? Please share!